Year Joined MKLM: 2013
Country: El Salvador
City: Zaragoza, La Libertad
Ministry: Zaragoza Nutrition Program
Ministry Area: Sustainable Development
Goals of Ministry: To work with local people in the community of Zaragoza to identify and respond to food insecurity and other basic needs.
47% of Salvadorans experienced food insecurity in 2021, and recent inflation has exacerbated the situation.
Melissa and her husband, Pete, live and work in the town of Zaragoza in the La Libertad department. They are currently working in the rural community of Asuchio. The community has been profoundly affected by the violence that is endemic in El Salvador, and many young people have been forced to migrate. Many residents live in temporary homes and lack basic services such as electricity and running water. Pete and Melissa are working with local leaders to to identify families that are food insecure and to provide them resources. In 2023, Pete and Melissa will move the Soy Nutrition Program, a Maryknoll Lay Missioners program co-founded and led by Ann Greig since 1994, to Zaragoza to continue its mission of providing nutrition to the most vulnerable.
Melissa and Pete are also working in their local parish, Nuestra Señora de Pilar, to strengthen the social outreach program to better respond to the needs of the many vulnerable families in Zaragoza..
Melissa is from North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, but recently lived in Long Beach, New York. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from La Roche College, Pennsylvania, and a master of education in school counseling from Manhattan College, New York. She was director of campus ministry at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. At La Roche, Melissa volunteered to advertise, promote and organize college events.
In El Salvador, Melissa with her husband, Peter, and children, Elijah and Evangelina, initially lived and worked in La India, a semi-rural community outside of Cojutepeque. Poverty was endemic and many homes lacked electricity and/or running water. Families struggled to make ends meet. Parents were often absent or working. This led to children spending their days on the streets, and they became vulnerable to the gangs that recruited in the area. She helped students to stay in school by promoting reading and literacy. Melissa encouraged children and youth to develop their unique gifts, talents and teamwork skills through recreational activities such as a games, other dynamics and painting. She provided education, personal development and recreational opportunities to the underserved children and youth through San Juan Bautista Parish.
In 2016 the Altman family moved to the town of Zaragoza, El Salvador, where Melissa served for six years at ACOMUJERZA, a cooperative that gives women, mostly mothers, an opportunity to earn a living by producing and selling clothing. As a Maryknoll lay missioner at ACOMUJERZA, Melissa helped with product development, leadership development and social media marketing. She continues to be involved in the cooperative and serves as a member of the marketing committee as well as the oversight committee.